Jazz fans should probably step back and enjoy this. These are their team's glory days. "As Good As It Gets." Ask Jack. He was there. The Jazz are hotter than Leonardo DiCaprio. Years from now, you'll smile wistfully, looking back on that summer and spring of '98.
Those were the days.At this late stage in their careers, with five of their stalwarts well into their 30s and the days of their career numbered, the Jazz - we discover to our surprise - are just hitting their stride. They are young again. They are on top of their game.
After sleeping through he first two rounds of the playoffs, they have suddenly summoned perhaps the best play of their long, torturous, arduous quest for the NBA title. They are playing - dare we say? - better than they were a year ago.
Playing in front of a hostile crowd in the L.A. Forum Friday night, a place in which no one was supposed to be able to win only a week ago, a place of legends and tradition and that Laker aura, the Jazz beat the Lakers 109-98 to take a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
"That was sweet," said Greg Foster to his teammates as they ran off the court.
The Jazz have all but assured themselves a place in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. The Lakers must beat the Jazz in four straight games - two of them in Salt Lake City - to stop the Jazz. It won't happen. Make your reservations at the Chicago Sheraton.
Before the start of this series, some of the Lakers felt that a sweep was possible. They were right. The Jazz could sweep this series with a win on Sunday afternoon. It would mark the first time the Jazz have ever swept a seven-game series.
Imagine what must be going through the minds of the Lakers, who spent the off-season on low boil after being dismissed by the Jazz in five games last season. They promised to do better; now they are staring at four games and out.
The Jazz proved their mettle on Friday night. They had beaten the Lakers twice in Salt Lake City, but the Forum was supposed to be another matter. The Lakers had won 37 of 45 games there this year. They also had not lost three consecutive games since December. They hadn't lost two in a row since March 2. The Lakers were the best team on the planet a week ago. They had blazed through the final month of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. The town was giddy. Magic Johnson said people were stopping him at the gas station to say, "What about those Lakers?" It hadn't been this way for years, since the day glory days of the Lakers.
And then they ran into the Jazz and the coronation parade ended. The loss on Friday was the final blow.
Everything seemed to point to a Jazz loss/letdown Friday. They had lost four of their last five times in a Game 3 situation. A year ago, they were routed in the Western Conference semifinals by the Lakers, just as they were beaten by Houston and San Antonio in Game 3 this year.
The Lakers were mad when the Jazz came to town Friday. So were their fans. In their minds, the Jazz had stolen the first two games because of dirty play and home-court officiating. This time things would be different in the Forum.
Forum, Schmorum. If the Jazz knew they weren't in the Delta Center, it never showed. They didn't notice the raucous crowd or the seven retired jerseys of the legends hanging from the wall - Baylor, Chamberlain, West, Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, Goodrich. They were oblivious to the Forum atmosphere, to Jack Nicholson, Magic Johnson and Halle Berry in the crowd. They were unfazed by the "Utah sucks!" chants and the waving of the white towel and Laker-yellow balloons. It was just another day at the office.
The Jazz had ever chance to melt under the pressure. The Lakers took a one-point lead in the third quarter, and any minute you thought the tide would turn. But the Jazz quickly forged another lead. The Jazz were as cool and methodical as surgeons. Ten different players scored for the Jazz. To a man, they met the Laker challenge. The bench delivered 46 points.
The Lakers threatened the Jazz again in the fourth quarter, and again the Jazz refused to crumble. Shandon Anderson and Bryon Russell - the next generation of Jazz leaders - took charge, both of them hitting big shots. Russell's three-point shot with 1:37 left clinched the victory.
In the end, the result was the same as it had been in the Delta Center. All Laker fans could do was chant their insults as the Jazz made their way to the locker room, but they rang hollow. The Jazz were the winners again, and they're about to send the Lakers on their summer vacation again.